As my esteemed (and inexplicably locked out, but working on it) blogmate frequently notes, Adam Schlesinger is a freaking genius. "An earworm factory," noted the divine watertiger in comments at Eschaton the other day. Another commenter pointed out that to create a film around a single song, in which the song appears repeatedly, and have people NOT end up hating the song, is an achievement in and of itself, certainly Oscar-worthy.
And so it behooves all pop fans to sit up and take notice when Fountains of Wayne comes out with a new record, as they did a couple of weeks ago.
Like all great pop bands, FOW has a formula: finding meaning in the small moments of small lives that create great resonance with their listeners. And so: getting a tattoo to impress a girl, sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge, trying to get home drunk from Port Authority, waiting for a refill on coffee. But from these more-or-less universal experiences, FOW crafts poetry. It's truly a thing of beauty.
And then there's the music. Thers frequently teases me that the boundaries of powerpop are hard to define, and thus there's no concrete generic definition beyond a Potter Stewart-y "I know it when I hear it," but that's not quite true. I would argue that powerpop is one of the most directly referential genres, that its structures and melodies and harmonies are instantly accessible, and often just-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue recognizable. It's not criticism, then, to identify the familiar elements in a powerpop song: the tribute is part of the point, and the ability to create new art from a familiar palette is a gift, not a flaw. The smack of instant recognition is joined by the wonder of discovery in the best powerpop.
And so, Traffic and Weather.
Like 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers, T&W focuses on the small things. "Someone to Love," the first single/video, sets up a traditional romantic structure: two lonely urban professionals, obviously destined for each other, on a collision course. Which fails. "Seth Shapiro is trying in vain/ To hail a taxi in the morning in the pouring rain/ Beth MacKenzie sees one just up ahead/ She cuts in front of him and leaves him for dead." And that's it: the missed moment, kismet wadded up in a gutter. These are the little tragedies, Schlesinger implies, the ones we don't even know about. It's heartbreaking, in a bizarre way. Contrast this with the comical "'92 Subaru," about remaking a Greenpeace-mobile into a boogie van.
As always with FOW records, the first three tracks are a 1-2-3 punch of glory, and the third here is "Yolanda Hayes," punctuated by a "Good Day Sunshine" short, sharp guitar line, and focusing on falling in love with the girl at the DMV. The meandering canvas of the next eleven sons touches on many other of these little moments in little lives: my own favorites include: "This Better Be Good," a snotty adolescent demand for an explanation from a cheating girlfriend; the fabulous title track; and "New Routine," focusing on the new rootlessness as a cure for boredom and unhappiness.
A great record, which will, as promised, worm its way into your consciousness. You'll be singing these in the shower for years.